Cats in general are meticulous self groomers using their tongue to clean themselves. The tongue has tiny hook like structures that help in the grooming process by removing the loose hair. While grooming, some of the hair may be ingested but usually it will pass through the stomach with the faeces. However, occasionally the hair can build up in the stomach and the cat will need to vomit it up, this is a hairball. A hairball generally looks more like a long thin tube of wet hair rather than a ball, as it has had to pass through the narrow oesophagus on the way up. When a cat is bringing up a hairball they will often make a terrible hacking or gagging sound as they try to move the hair up through the oesophagus.
There are a number of products on the market that help hairballs pass through the system with greater ease. A popular product is Laxapet Gel which is a paste that you put on the cats feet or legs and they lick it off and ingest it. Laxapet Gel acts as a laxative and contains a lubricant to help the ingested hair pass through with the faeces instead of building up in the stomach. There are also specially formulated cat foods available like Hills Science Diet Feline Hairball Control. This feed contains natural vegetable fibres that help control the formation of hairballs by assisting the hair to pass through the system. The other thing you can do to help your cat avoid hairballs is to help them ingest less hair by giving them a brush. Most cats love a brush and there are plenty of brushes available that have been designed especially for cats.
In general, hairballs are not a health problem, although sometimes the excessive buildup of hair in the stomach can cause a blockage if it is not passed easily. If your cat is continually vomiting up hairballs it would be best to seek some veterinarian advice just to make sure there isn’t a blockage in the stomach. If you notice any symptoms like continually gagging or hacking without producing a hairball, loss of appetite, lethargy, constipation or diarrhoea contact your veterinarian immediately as these are symptoms of a life threatening blockage.